WASHINGTON -- Conservatism's current intellectual chaos reverberated in the Republican ticket's end-of-campaign crescendo of surreal warnings that big government -- verily, "socialism" -- would impend were Democrats elected. John McCain and Sarah Palin experienced this epiphany when Barack Obama told a Toledo plumber that he would "spread the wealth around."
America can't have that, exclaimed the Republican ticket while Republicans -- whose prescription drug entitlement is the largest expansion of the welfare state since President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society gave birth to Medicare in 1965; a majority of whom in Congress supported a lavish farm bill at a time of record profits for the less than 2 percent of the American people-cum-corporations who farm -- and their administration were partially nationalizing the banking system, putting Detroit on the dole and looking around to see if some bit of what is smilingly called "the private sector" has been inadvertently left off the ever-expanding list of entities eligible for a bailout from the $1 trillion or so that is to be "spread around."
The seepage of government into everywhere is, we are assured, to be temporary and nonpolitical. Well.
Probably as temporary as New York City's rent controls, which were born as emergency responses to the Second World War, and which are still distorting the city's housing market. The Depression, which FDR failed to end but which Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor did end, was the excuse for agriculture subsidies that have lived past three score years and 10.
The distribution of a trillion dollars by a political institution -- the federal government -- will be nonpolitical? How could it be? Either markets allocate resources, or government -- meaning politics -- allocates them. Now that distrust of markets is high, Americans are supposed to believe that the institution they trust least -- Congress -- will pony up $1 trillion and then passively recede, never putting its 10 thumbs, like a manic Jack Horner, into the pie? Surely Congress will direct the executive branch to show compassion for this, that and the other industry. And it will mandate "socially responsible" spending -- an infinitely elastic term -- by the favored companies.
Detroit has not yet started spending the $25 billion that Congress has approved, but already is, like Oliver Twist, holding out its porridge bowl and saying, "Please, sir, I want some more."